Caveat Emptor

Let the buyer beware! If you are anything like me you tend to remember this when it’s too late.  Buying can be such an emotional business as shown by the increasing number of situations in which the law now demands an official cooling off period.  Sales techniques can play on our emotions and our dreams and we allow them to. Caveat emptor reminds us that we can only be manipulated if we allow it.  Plato insisted (please tell me if I have remembered incorrectly, I am writing long hand and nowhere near Google!) that there is no such thing as an unfair price.  If I agree to pay then I cannot claim it to be unfair.  I remember arguing against this with a student philosopher friend when I had just parted with a fiver for a cold drink on a particularly hot day in London.  I lost! 

Of course the real issue is between price and value and this is where caveat emptor becomes serious business.  It tells us that there can be only one judge of value and that is the buyer.  The story of Ratner’s jewellery proved that we very often actively buy into emotional manipulation and that it is not automatically a bad thing.  Their low cost range of jewellery told people they did not need to spend a million dollars in order to look a million dollars.  The fashion industry regularly and accurately uses this ploy.  Buying into it has huge psychological benefits and as such can be said to have value. Value is indeed a subtle and delicate concept.  Ratner’s catastrophic mistake, and it should be said valuable lesson to all, was to smash the dream.  All value gone.  Proof that the only judge of value is the buyer.

There are certain public sector situations where organisations are required to tender for services and bound to accept the cheapest bid.  Total nonsense!  The cheapest bid may be the best value; it may simply be cheap.  Remove the power to make that judgement and the chances of it being merely cheap soar.  This is so obvious that I am almost embarrassed to have written it.  Not obvious enough, it seems, to prevent such a ridiculous system emerging.

Like most people I have, over recent years, parted with crazy amounts of money to buy food in Ireland when I knew there was ‘better value’ (and I should write lower prices) to be had a short drive away.  Because I spend a significant amount of time in another European country I was very much aware and often irritated.  Rarely irritated enough to make that short drive!  Before we reach for past copies ‘rip-off Ireland’, caveat emptor jumps in to insist that my inaction was putting a value on convenience.  I agreed the prices by paying them.

There has suddenly been a huge shift in the perception of value. The pendulum has swung and people are counting pennies again. We should never have stopped counting pennies and now we must be careful not to overdo it. The cheapest available may add just that to your business; ‘cheapness’. The best value will, by definition, add value. What I find stressful about shopping is that only I can decide the difference. Caveat emptor!


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